A Millionaire in Guantanamo, Cuba

Rosa Martinez

Downtown Guantanamo, Cuba.  Foto: venceremos.cu
Downtown Guantanamo, Cuba. Foto: venceremos.cu

HAVANA TIMES — The city of Guantanamo has changed in recent times. People from other provinces say the whole of Cuba is changing. I hope that’s true.

A short time ago I met a millionaire who was neither Italian, Spanish nor American. He was born and raised in Guantanamo. In Cuba, anyone with a bank account of at least one million Cuban pesos (40 thousand US dollars) is considered a millionaire. This is the case with J (who doesn’t want people to know his real name, let alone see his face). In addition to this sum, he owns two large houses and a ranch that could fit at least 20 families. He also has a van, a truck and a car.

My acquaintance inherited a considerable part of his possessions from his father, who in turn inherited these from his own father. They have always owned those vehicles and been linked to Anchar, the private car rental agency that existed in Cuba before the Special Period, when getting around was the easiest and cheapest thing in the world. Even then, they were earning a lot of money.

He obtained in a diploma in dentistry and worked as a dental technician until his father became ill and he had to take over the family business. He tells us his story below.

J: The first thing I did was change the truck driver and assistant, because I didn’t trust them. My dad complained about them every day but never replaced them. With the new and old employees, I began to improve the family economy little by little.

I didn’t do anything my dad hadn’t done before, save buy a spare engine for each vehicle, such that, when a car broke down, we would replace the entire system. The car could then continue to be used while we fixed the problem.

I am demanding of my employees, but I pay well, more than the majority. That’s why my people work longer hours, which means more profits, of course.

Lastly, we take all of the trips to Havana that people want to hire us for. Other car owners prefer not to drive their cars to distant provinces, because their vehicles aren’t in good technical condition. That’s not our case. We profit from those long trips. The pay is good and we send two drivers and two assistants, like State buses do, to avoid accidents caused by tiredness.

HT: Have you ever been questioned about the money you have in the bank? My question comes out of recalling several “well-to-do” people whose assets have been confiscated by the Cuban State.

J: The fact is that my family has always kept its savings in the bank. Perhaps it’s because we’ve always owned a ranch and cars, and because we have family abroad that have helped us a lot financially.

HT: With so much money, have you never thought about going to another country, starting life anew somewhere else?

J: I almost did that in the mid-90s. I was very young and the Special Period was at its worst.

Our relatives abroad helped us financially, so we were never in as tight a situation as other Cubans, but the Special Period made us change and see things differently nonetheless. I wasn’t able to secure a legal means of leaving the country, and my parents made me swear I would never attempt to do it any other way.

As of the year 2000, life in Cuba began to change. We started to improve our lot little by little. Then, recently, the changes we’d been waiting for decades for finally arrived. You can now sell or buy your house or car, anyone who wants to travel and has the money for it can do so, you can go to hotels…there are other economic measures that offer the private sector, which my family has always belonged to, even back when it was disreputable, many opportunities.

Believe it or not and whether we get a bigger or smaller slice of the pie, Cuba is changing. I hope that these improvements will continue and that our children, nephews and grandchildren don’t have to dream of leaving Cuba to lead a better life, that they are able to make their dreams come true here, as I try to do so right now.

9 thoughts on “A Millionaire in Guantanamo, Cuba

  • jajja los babosos comunistas hablando de mafia,cuando ellos se roban el sudor del cubano,ademas boniato con patas mafia existe en todas las partes del mundo,menos Cuba alli solo existe la robo…lucion bandedidos asesinos ratas que se esconden entre el pueblo y los ninos,

  • Miguel Diaz-Canel is a place-holder. Raul’s son, Alejandro Castro Espín holds the rank of colonel in the Interior Ministry of Cuba. As such he controls the State Security apparatus. He is known as a hardline doctrinaire ideologue. In the future post-Castro Cuba, any figurehead such as Diaz-Canal will understand he holds his position at the pleasure of the next generation of the Castros.

  • Moses you may be correct. But let’s noir forget owners of large and busy paladars and other businesses. Some of these paladars can bring in millions.

  • One aspect of the U.S.-Cuban conundrum that would be amusing if it were not so demeaning to democracy is the fact that Moses Patterson and the vast legion of anti-Castro zealots, from safe havens in the U. S., always rise up to shoot-down any positive element emanating from Cuba. Their premise, of course, is always apparent but left unsaid — the fact that the Batista-Mafia rule that spawned the Cuban Revolution was not exactly a benevolent dictatorship. Fidel Castro is 88 and very unwell; Raul Castro is almost 84 and very tired. 54-year-old Miguel Diaz-Canel, a non-Castro, has already been designated the post-Castro leader of Cuba, and he appears to be very modest and well-liked by everyday Cubans. I wonder, Moses, have you already compiled a plethora of devises to assail Mr. Diaz-Canel when he tries to build on the positive changes taking place on the island, such as the changes depicted by the “millionaire” that journalist Rosa Martinez discovered in Quantanamo, which is a quaint little Cuban town that seems far removed from the U.S.-occupied Quantanamo Bay that, to other nations, sheds an unsavory imperialist glow on America’s democracy, which other than its dastardly Cuban policy remains by far the greatest form of government in world history. The Batistianos were not good for Cuba in the 1950s and they have not been good for America since 1959. It is my belief that, if not for exiles in the U. S. determined to regain control of the island, Cubans on the island would have been able to change Cuba decades earlier. I formed that opinion when I was on the island and made it a point to interact with everyday Cubans and solicit their thoughts. Anyone who thinks the myriad of assassination attempts against Fidel Castro, the Bay of Pigs attack, the terrorist bomb that downed Cuban Flight 455, the embargo, etc., have or will speed up changes on the island are sadly mistaken. I also believe that apologists for such things are only preaching to the choir, and a sharply diminishing choir. And that’s why I believe that Cubans on the island, not exiles in a superpower, should orchestrate the changes on the island. Miguel Diaz-Canel is a Cuban on the island. Let’s judge him and Cuba five years from now.

  • My wife quickly reminded me that there are musicians and artists like Silvio Rodriguez with a lot of money who still live in Cuba. They also have homes in Spain or Miami but ‘officially’ still live in Cuba. I would still bet the number is less than 100 of very rich Cubans who live in Cuba and are not related to the ‘brothers’.

  • I know many Cubans who have amounts far exceeding this in the bank. I know of one who is a legitimate millionaire, making $1,000,000+ (dollars, not pesos) a year. Legitimate and taxed. And no, he is not related to the brothers. I think that now with the broadening of private business opportunities you will see more of a middle class (especially in the commercial centre of the country, Havana).

  • $40,000 makes a millionaire.
    How many Cubans can afford to buy a casa, in our town there are many for sale but no buyers. But we went to spend four days in an hotel at Varadero when it was decided two years ago that Cubans could stay in Hotels in heir own country. Yes, it is easy to get a passport, but on average pay of $20.68 per month, difficult to find the money and other countries are unwilling to provide Temporary Resident Visas as somehow they think that Cubans won’t return to Cuba. You can buy a car – an aged Peugeot for $30,000.
    I hope that Cuba is going to change because so far any changes have been cosmetic.

  • There are only a handful of Cubans with this kind of money. Most of them have illegal businesses that generate incomes not taxed by the Castros and therefore the benefit is limited to friends and family. Until wealthy Cubans, both on and off the island, are able to invest in and/or own legal businesses that can contribute to the general well-being of Cuba as a whole. Cuba’s economic growth will be slow, if at all.

  • What a great and informative article… to see that Cuba is actually going through these types of changes. It is like seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

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